When Virginia Burkett agreed to return to her high-school town of Biloxi and be a keynote speaker on climate change at the Mississippi-Alabama Bays and Bayous Symposium, she took the opportunity to say thank you to a teacher who shaped her future.
Burkett, chief scientist for global change research at the U.S. Geological Survey, honored Della McCaughan of Biloxi before her Oct. 29 presentation.
Burkett remembers McCaughan, a retired Biloxi High School teacher, as someone who inspired students to love the coast with hands-on activities, such as Friday field trips to the barrier islands and seining and identifying fish.
“There was no marine biology text for high school students, so she wrote one, which the students helped assemble in a long line in 1967,” Burkett said. “Mrs. McCaughan is the main reason I became a scientist, and she was the first person I thought about when I received an e-mail informing me that our United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change team was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2007.”
Burkett served on the panel, which shared the Nobel Prize with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.
Burkett was not alone in honoring her high-school teacher at the symposium. Biloxi High School former students Michael Bograd, now state geologist for Mississippi, and Dianne Rody Hunt, of the Wildlife Rehabilitation and Nature Preservation Society, also attended the symposium to recognize McCaughan for the impacts her teaching made on their lives and career paths.
McCaughan, who taught in Biloxi Public Schools for 44 years, said her inquisitive students made her keep learning and that they did more for her than she did for them. Although she has been recognized numerous times for her teaching accomplishments, she said being honored by her former students was the best honor yet.
McCaughan and her husband, Finley, live in Biloxi.